The KH-11 KENNEN : 82 and Key Hole : 82 ) is a type of reconnaissance satellite first launched by the American National Reconnaissance Office in December 1976. Manufactured by Lockheed in Sunnyvale, California, the KH-11 was the first American spy satellite to use electro-optical digital imaging, and so offer real-time optical observations.(later renamed CRYSTAL, then Evolved Enhanced CRYSTAL System, and codenamed 1010
Later KH-11 satellites have been referred to by outside observers as KH-11B or KH-12, and by the names "Advanced KENNEN", "Improved Crystal" and "Ikon". Official budget documents refer to the latest generation of electro-optical satellites as Evolved Enhanced CRYSTAL System.The Key Hole series was officially discontinued in favor of a random numbering scheme after repeated public references to KH-7 Gambit, KH-8 Gambit-3, KH-9 Hexagon, and KH-11 satellites.
The capabilities of the KH-11 are highly classified, as are images they produce. The satellites are believed to have been the source of some imagery of the Soviet Union and China made public in 1997; images of Sudan and Afghanistan made public in 1998 related to the response to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings;[ citation needed ] and a 2019 photo, revealed by President Donald Trump, of a failed Iranian rocket launch.
The Film Read-Out GAMBIT (FROG) served as NRO Program A's competitor to NRO Program B's initial electro-optical imagery (EOI) satellite.After a precursor EOI study with the codeword Zoster, President Nixon on 23 September 1971 approved the development of an EOI satellite under the initial codeword Zaman. In November 1971, this codeword was changed to Kennen, which is Middle English for "to perceive."
Data is transmitted through a network of communications satellites; the Satellite Data System.The initial ground station for the processing of the electro-optical imaging was a secret National Reconnaissance Office facility in Area 58, later confirmed to be located in Fort Belvoir.
In 1999, NRO selected Boeing as the prime contractor for the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, aimed at replacing the KH-11 satellites by a more cost effective constellation of smaller, and also more capable reconnaissance satellites. After the failure of the FIA in 2005, NRO ordered from Lockheed two additional legacy hardware KH-11s.USA-224, the first of these two, was launched in early 2011 two years ahead of the initial schedule estimate.
In January 2011, NRO offered NASA two space optical systems with 2.4 m diameter primary mirrors, similar to the Hubble Space Telescope, yet with steerable secondary mirrors and shorter focal length resulting in a wider field of view. These could either be spare hardware from the KH-11 program, or optics from the cancelled FIA program.The satellites were reportedly stored in a clean room facility at ITT Exelis in Rochester, New York.
According to Lew Allen, the initial key design elements were specified by Edwin H. Land. They included i) solid state focal plane array, ii) integrated circuits for complex data processing, iii) large, fast optics with a 100 inch (2.54m) diameter f/2 primary mirror, iv) gigabit/s data link, v) long on-orbit operational lifetime for the imaging satellites, and vi) communication satellites to facilitate close-to-realtime downlink of the images.
KH-11s are believed to resemble the Hubble Space Telescope in size and shape, as the satellites were shipped in similar containers. Their length is believed to be 19.5 meters, with a diameter of up to 3 meters.A NASA history of the Hubble, in discussing the reasons for switching from a 3-meter main mirror to a 2.4-meter design, states: "In addition, changing to a 2.4-meter mirror would lessen fabrication costs by using manufacturing technologies developed for military spy satellites."
Different versions of the KH-11 vary in mass. Early KH-11s were reported to be comparable in mass to the KH-9 Hexagon, kg. Later blocks are believed to have a mass of around 17,000 kg to 19,600 kg.i.e. about 12,000
It has been reported that KH-11s are equipped with a hydrazine-powered propulsion system for orbital adjustments. In order to increase the orbital lifetime of KH-11s, plans existed for refuelling the propulsion module during service visits by the Space Shuttle.It has been speculated that the propulsion module is related to Lockheed's Satellite Support Bus (SSB), which had been derived from the Satellite Control Section (SCS) developed by Lockheed for KH-9.
A CIA history states that the primary mirror on the first KH-11s measured 2.34 meters, but sizes increased in later versions.NRO led the development of a computer controlled mirror polishing technique, which was subsequently also used for the polishing of the primary mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Later satellites had larger mirrors, with a diameter of around 2.9–3.1 m [ citation needed ]Jane's Defence Weekly indicates that the secondary mirror in the Cassegrain reflecting telescope system could be moved, allowing images to be taken from angles unusual for a satellite. Also, there are indications that the satellite can take images every five seconds.
The initial KH-11 camera system offered frame and strip modes. 800 × 800 pixels charge-coupled device (CCD). Later block satellites may include signals intelligence capabilities and greater sensitivity in broader light spectrums (probably into infrared).The focal plane was equipped with an array of light-sensitive diodes, which converted brightness values to electrical signals. The packaging density was sufficiently high (several hundred diodes per inch) to match the ground sample distance of the CORONA satellites. The recorded digital signal was transmitted to a ground station in near real time, and written to film by means of a laser in order to recreate the recorded image. KH-11 Block II might have been the first reconnaissance satellite equipped for imaging with a
Communication to and data downloads from KH-11 satellites are routed through a constellation of communication relay satellites in higher orbits. The initial communications relay payload is believed to have operated at a frequency of 60 GHz, as radio emission at this frequency is blocked by Earth's atmosphere, and thus not detectable from the ground. Launch of the initial two Satellite Data System satellites occurred in June and August 1976, i.e. ahead of the first launch of a KH-11 satellite in late 1976.
A perfect 2.4 m mirror observing in the visual (i.e. at a wavelength of 500 nm) has a diffraction limited resolution of around 0.05 arcsec, which from an orbital altitude of 250 km corresponds to a ground sample distance of 0.06 m (6 cm, 2.4 inches). Operational resolution should be worse due to effects of the atmospheric turbulence. Astronomer Clifford Stoll estimates that such a telescope could resolve up to "a couple inches. Not quite good enough to recognize a face".
In the 2012 National Reconnaissance Office space telescope donation to NASA, the two Optical Telescope Assemblies (OTA) were suspected to be KH-11 series "extra hardware", but were later attributed to the Future Imaging Architecture program. The donated OTAs feature a three-mirror anastigmat (TMA) optical design, without the tertiary mirror. The f/1.2 primary has a diameter of 2.4 m, and is refocused by the secondary to give an overall f/8 focal ratio, making the optical telescope assembly shorter than that of HST. With the addition of the tertiary mirror, this will produce a much wider field than Hubble's 2-mirror f/24 Ritchey–Chrétien optical design, making it a potentially ideal observatory for dark energy or other astrophysics surveys. The secondary mirror is mounted on a hexapod to increase the side-viewing and ground scanning ability for the originally intended reconnaissance mission.
Five generations of U.S. electro-optical reconnaissance have been identified:
Block I refer to the original KH-11 satellite, of which five were launched between 19 December 1976 and 17 November 1982.
The three Block II satellites are in the open literature referred to as KH-11B, the alleged DRAGON codename, or Crystal, and are believed to be capable of taking infrared images in addition to optical observations.The first or second Block II satellite was lost in a launch failure.
Four Block III satellites, commonly called KH-12 or Improved Crystal were launched between November 1992 and October 2001. The name "Improved Crystal" refers to the "Improved Metric CRYSTAL System" (IMCS). Metric describes the capability to fix Datum references (markings) in an image relative to the World Geodetic System for mapping purposes.Another improvement was an eightfold increase in the download rate compared to earlier models to facilitate improved real-time access and increased area coverage. From Block III on, the typical lifetime of the satellites increased to about 15 years, possibly related to a higher lift-off mass, which facilitates larger fuel reserves for countering atmospheric drag.
Three electro-optical satellites launched in October 2005, January 2011, and August 2013 are attributed to Block IV.
A new generation of clandestine communications satellites launched to inclined geosynchronous orbits have led to speculations that these are in support of Block V electro-optical satellites scheduled for launch in late 2018 (NROL-71) and 2021 (NROL-82).The two satellites have been built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, have a primary mirror with a diameter of 2.4 m, and are evolutionary upgrades to the previous blocks built by Lockheed.
Based on the published hazard areas for the launch, an orbital inclination of 74° has been deduced for NROL-71. This could indicate that NROL-71 is targeted for a Type II Multi Sun-Synchronous Orbit,which would enable the satellite to study the ground at a range of local hour effects (shadow direction and length, daily activities, etc.).
The Misty satellite is believed to have been derived from the KH-11, but modified to make it invisible to radar, and hard to detect visually. The first Misty satellite, USA-53, was released by the Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-36. The USA-144 satellite, launched on 22 May 1999 by a Titan IVB from Vandenberg Air Force Base may have been a second Misty satellite, or an Enhanced Imaging System spacecraft. The satellites are sometimes identified as KH-12s.
In 1978, a young CIA employee named William Kampiles was accused of selling a KH-11 System Technical Manual describing design and operation to the Soviets. Kampiles was convicted of espionage and initially sentenced to 40 years in prison.Later, this term was reduced, and after serving 18 years, Kampiles was released in 1996.
In 1984 Samuel Loring Morison, an intelligence analyst at the Naval Intelligence Support Center, forwarded three classified images taken by KH-11 to the publication Jane's Defence Weekly . In 1985, Morison was convicted in Federal Court on two counts of espionage and two counts of theft of government property, and was sentenced to two years in prison.He was pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.
In 2019 Donald Trump, then President of the United States, tweeted a previously classifiedimage of the aftermath of a failed test of Iran's Safir rocket, which some believe was taken from the USA-224 satellite.
Nine KH-11 satellites were launched between 1976 and 1990 aboard Titan-3D and Titan-34D rockets, with one launch failure. For the following five satellite launches between 1992 and 2005, a Titan IV launch vehicle was used. The three most recent launches since 2011 were carried out by Delta IV Heavy rockets. The KH-11 replaced the KH-9 film return satellite, among others, the last of which was lost in a liftoff explosion in 1986.
All KH-11 satellites are in either of two standard planes in Sun-synchronous orbits. As shadows help to discern ground features, satellites in a standard plane east of a noon/midnight orbit observe the ground at local afternoon hours, while satellites in a western plane observe the ground at local morning hours.Historically launches have therefore been timed to occur either about two hours before or one hour after local noon (or midnight), respectively. The orbits are such that ground-tracks repeat after a certain number of days, currently each four days for the primary satellites in the East and West orbital plane.
The constellation consists of two primary and two secondary satellites (one primary and one secondary per plane). The orbital planes of the two primary satellites in the East and West plane are separated by 48° to 50°. The orbital plane of the secondary satellite in the East plane is located 20° to the east of the primary satellite, while the orbital plane of the secondary satellite in the West plane is located 10° to the west of the primary satellite.
|Launch date|| COSPAR ID |
|Launch designation||Orbit||Plane||Orbital decay date|
|OPS 5705||1-1||19 December 1976||1976-125A |
|N/A||247 km × 533 km, i=96.9°||West||28 January 1979|
|OPS 4515||1-2||14 June 1978||1978-060A |
|276 km × 509 km, i=96.8°||West||23 August 1981|
|OPS 2581||1-3||7 February 1980||1980-010A |
|309 km × 501 km, i=97.1°||East||30 October 1982|
|OPS 3984||1-4||3 September 1981||1981-085A |
|244 km × 526 km, i=96.9°||West||23 November 1984|
|OPS 9627||1-5||17 November 1982||1982-111A |
|280 km × 522 km, i=96.9°||East||13 August 1985|
|USA-6||2-1||4 December 1984||1984-122A |
|335 km × 758 km, i=98°||West||10 November 1994|
|Unknown||2-2||28 August 1985||N/A||Failed to orbit||East||N/A|
|USA-27||2-3||26 October 1987||1987-090A |
|300 km × 1000 km, i=98°||East||11 June 1992|
|USA-33||2-4||6 November 1988||1988-099A |
|300 km × 1000 km, i=98°||West||12 May 1996|
|USA-86||3-1||28 November 1992||1992-083A |
|408 km × 931 km, i=97.7°||East||5 June 2000|
|USA-116||3-2||5 December 1995||1995-066A |
|405 km × 834 km, i=97.7°||East||19 November 2008|
|USA-129||3-3||20 December 1996||1996-072A |
|NROL-2||292 km × 894 km, i=97.7°||West||24 April 2014|
|USA-161||3-4||5 October 2001||2001-044A |
|NROL-14||309 km × 965 km, i=97.9°||East||late 2014|
|USA-186||4-1||19 October 2005||2005-042A |
|NROL-20||263 km × 450 km, i=97.9°||West|
|USA-224||4-2||20 January 2011||2011-002A |
|NROL-49||290 km × 985 km, i=97.9°||East|
|USA-245||4-3||28 August 2013||2013-043A |
|NROL-65||260 km × 1007 km, i=97.9°||West|
|USA-290||5-1?||19 January 2019||2019-004A |
|NROL-71||395 km × 420 km, i=73.6°||N/A|
|USA-314||5-2?||26 April 2021||2021-032A |
|NROL-82||548 km × 773 km, i=98.0°||East|
KH-11 satellites require periodic reboosts to counter atmospheric drag, or to adjust their ground track to surveillance requirements. Based on data collected by amateur observers, the following orbital characteristics of OPS 5705 were calculated by amateur skywatcher Ted Molczan.
| Periapsis |
| Apoapsis |
|Apogee at end of period|
|19 December 1976 – 23 December||253 km (157 mi)||541 km (336 mi)||541 km (336 mi)|
|23 December 1976 – 27 March 1977||348 km (216 mi)||541 km (336 mi)||537 km (334 mi)|
|27 March 1977 – 19 August||270 km (170 mi)||537 km (334 mi)||476 km (296 mi)|
|19 August 1977 – 1978 January||270 km (170 mi)||528 km (328 mi)||454 km (282 mi)|
|1978 January – 28 January 1979||263 km (163 mi)||534 km (332 mi)||Deorbited|
On 4 September 2010, amateur astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh took some pictures of a KH-11 (USA-129) satellite from the ground. The pictures, despite being taken with a 10-inch aperture telescope from a range of 336 kilometers, show major details such as dishes and solar panels, as well as some elements whose function is not known.
Estimated unit costs, including launch and in 1990 dollars, range from US$1.25 to 1.75 billion (inflation adjusted US$2.48 to 3.47 billion in 2020).
According to Republican Senator Kit Bond initial budget estimates for each of the two legacy KH-11 satellites ordered from Lockheed in 2005 were higher than for the latest Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (CVN-77) 5.06 billion in 2020).with its projected procurement cost of US$6.35 billion as of May 2005. In 2011, after the launch of USA-224, DNRO Bruce Carlson announced that the procurement cost for the satellite had been US$2 billion under the initial budget estimate, which would put it at about US$4.4 billion (inflation adjusted US$
In April 2014, the NRO assigned a "worth more than $5 billion" to the final two legacy KH-11 satellites.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is a member of the United States Intelligence Community and an agency of the United States Department of Defense which designs, builds, launches, and operates the reconnaissance satellites of the U.S. federal government, and provides satellite intelligence to several government agencies, particularly signals intelligence (SIGINT) to the NSA, imagery intelligence (IMINT) to the NGA, and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) to the DIA.
The KH-8 was a long-lived series of reconnaissance satellites of the "Key Hole" (KH) series used by the United States from July 1966 to April 1984, and also known as Low Altitude Surveillance Platform. The satellite ejected "film-bucket" canisters of photographic film that were retrieved as they descended through the atmosphere by parachute. Ground resolution of the mature satellite system was better than 4 inches (0.10 m). There were 54 launch attempts of the 3,000 kilogram satellites, all from Vandenberg Air Force Base, on variants of the Titan III rocket. Three launches failed to achieve orbit. The first one was satellite #5 on April 26, 1967 which fell into the Pacific Ocean after the Titan second stage developed low thrust. The second was satellite #35 on May 20, 1972 which suffered an Agena pneumatic regulator failure and reentered the atmosphere. A few months later, pieces of the satellite turned up in England and the US managed to arrange for their hasty return. The third failure was satellite #39 on June 26, 1973 which suffered a stuck Agena fuel valve. The Bell 8096 engine failed to start and the satellite burned up in the atmosphere. The KH-8 was manufactured by Lockheed. The camera system/satellite was manufactured by Eastman Kodak's A&O Division in Rochester, New York.
The SAMOS or SAMOS-E program was a relatively short-lived series of reconnaissance satellites for the United States in the early 1960s, also used as a cover for the initial development of the KH-7 GAMBIT system. Reconnaissance was performed with film cameras and television surveillance from polar low Earth orbits with film canister returns and transmittals over the United States. SAMOS was first launched in 1960 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) monitors meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial physics for the United States Department of Defense. The program is managed by the United States Space Force with on-orbit operations provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The mission of the satellites was revealed in March 1973. They provide cloud cover imagery from polar orbits that are Sun-synchronous at nominal altitude of 830 km (520 mi).
Lacrosse or Onyx is a series of terrestrial radar imaging reconnaissance satellites operated by the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). While not officially confirmed by the NRO or the Government of the United States prior to 2008, there was widespread evidence pointing to its existence, including one NASA website. In July 2008, the NRO itself declassified the existence of its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation.
Misty is reportedly the name of a classified project by the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to operate stealthy reconnaissance satellites. The satellites are conjectured to be photo reconnaissance satellites and the program has been the subject of atypically public debates about its worthiness in the defense budget since December 2004. The estimated project costs in 2004 were, at the time of statement, US$9.5 billion.
Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) was a program awarded to Boeing to design a new generation of optical and radar imaging US reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). In 2005 NRO director Donald Kerr recommended the project's termination, and the optical component of the program was finally cancelled in September 2005 by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. FIA has been called by The New York Times "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects." Despite the optical component's cancellation, the radar component, known as Topaz, has continued, with four satellites in orbit as of February 2016.
KH-9, commonly known as Big Bird or KeyHole-9, was a series of photographic reconnaissance satellites launched by the United States between 1971 and 1986. Of twenty launch attempts by the National Reconnaissance Office, all but one were successful. Photographic film aboard the KH-9 was sent back to Earth in recoverable film return capsules for processing and interpretation. The best ground resolution achieved by the main cameras was better than 0.6 m.
Discoverer 20, also known as KH-5 9014A, was a USAF photographic reconnaissance satellite under the supervision of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) which was launched in 1961. Discoverer 20 was the first KH-5 ARGON satellite to be launched.
Discoverer 23, also known as KH-5 9016A, was a USAF photographic reconnaissance satellite under the supervision of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) which was launched in 1961. It was a KH-5 ARGON satellite, based on an Agena-B. It was the second KH-5 mission to be launched, and the second to end in failure.
Discoverer 17, also known as Corona 9012, was an American optical reconnaissance satellite launched on 12 November 1960 at 20:38:00 GMT. It was the second of ten Corona KH-2 satellites, based on the Agena-B.
Discoverer 18, also known as Corona 9013, was an American optical reconnaissance satellite launched on 7 December 1960 at 20:24:00 GMT. It was the first successful, and the third of ten total Corona KH-2 satellites, based on the Agena-B.
USA-224, also known as NROL-49, is an American reconnaissance satellite. Launched in 2011 to replace the decade-old USA-161 satellite, it is the fifteenth KH-11 optical imaging satellite to reach orbit.
The 2012 National Reconnaissance Office space telescope donation to NASA was the declassification and donation to NASA of two identical space telescopes by the United States National Reconnaissance Office. The donation has been described by scientists as a substantial improvement over NASA's current Hubble Space Telescope. Although the telescopes themselves were given to NASA at no cost, the space agency must still pay for the cost of instruments and electronics for the telescopes, as well as the launch of the telescopes. On February 17, 2016, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope was formally designated as a mission by NASA, predicated on using one of the space telescopes.
USA-245 or NRO Launch 65 (NROL-65) is an American reconnaissance satellite which is operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched in August 2013, it is the last Block 4 KH-11 reconnaissance satellite, and the last official spacecraft to be launched in the Keyhole program.
USA-247, also known as NRO Launch 39 or NROL-39, is an American reconnaissance satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office and launched in December 2013. The USA-247 launch received a relatively high level of press coverage due to the mission's choice of logo, which depicts an octopus sitting astride the globe with the motto "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach". The logo was extensively criticized in light of the surveillance disclosures in July 2013.
Kosmos 16 or Zenit-2 No.10 was a Soviet optical film-return reconnaissance satellite which was launched in 1963. A Zenit-2 satellite, Kosmos 16 was the tenth of eighty-one such spacecraft to be launched.
Kosmos 37 or Zenit-2 No.22 was a Soviet, first generation, low resolution, optical film-return reconnaissance satellite launched in 1964. A Zenit-2 spacecraft, Kosmos 37 was the twentieth of eighty-one such satellites to be launched and had a mass of 4,730 kilograms (10,430 lb).
USA-198, known before launch as NRO Launch 24 (NROL-24), is an American communications satellite that was launched in 2007.
Samuel Loring Morison's lawyers argued last week that their client - back in a Baltimore courtroom for sentencing - was not a spy and thus should not be dealt with harshly. But Federal District Judge Joseph H. Young rejected the lawyers' pleas for probation and sentenced Mr. Morison, convicted in October of giving spy-satellite photographs to a British military magazine, to two years in prison.
An act of particular courage was the pardon of Samuel Loring Morison, the only government official ever convicted for giving classified information to the press. Because he was concerned about growth of the Soviet Navy, he sent a satellite photograph of a new Soviet ship under construction to a defense magazine. It was a sickening case of prosecutorial abuse. President Clinton issued the pardon despite knee-jerk opposition from the C.I.A., which couldn't find a real spy, Aldrich Ames, in its own ranks.